Friday, March 09, 2007

The purpose of this record…

The Knights of the Turntables - Techno Scratch
The Knights of the Turntables - Fresh Mess (Jam... Your Radio)
The Knights of the Turntables - Dub (The Knights Fly To Mars And Venus, With Their Dog, Woodpecker, And Cat)

This blog is for entertainment, not education, but as I was searching the vastness of the internet for information for this post, I came across an mp3 of an interview with the artists concerned – The Knights of the Turntables – from a German website Considering the paucity of information elsewhere, this interview was a veritable goldmine, as two of the original members of the crew talk about the electro scene in L.A. in 1984 / 1985 and the recording of their seminal track, ‘Techno Scratch’. It was like an electro history lesson, and considering how obsessed I am, I hung off their every word. The discovery of this interview changed my post a lot, as instead of the half-truths and speculation I was basing it on before, I have been able to transcribe some cold, hard facts, straight from the key protagonists’ mouths. Read on and learn – quiet at the back…

The Knights of the Turntables were a DJ collective who hailed from Carson, California, located 13 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Based around a core trio of DJ’s - Gerard ‘Lil Rockin’ G’ Burton, Curtis ‘C-Brez’ Harvey Jnr and Mad Mixer RMG - they came together in 1983 and set up what can only be described as a mobile disco service, playing at clubs, parties, graduations and high school dances in the L.A. area. Despite the mobile disco title, not for them a dodgy tricolour light box, glitter ball and collection of Black Lace 7”’s, oh no. The Knights were cool as fuck, serving up scratching and mixing across four or even six turntables, playing the freshest electro and techno cuts that Lil Rockin’ G would procure from record buying trips all over the US. They were joined by MC’s including Chilly G, and, as time went on, would introduce drum machines and samplers to their set-up. Everyone would come down to watch the DJ’s scratch and mix, and there would be break dancing contests and MC battles. There would also be battles against rival DJ crews, and as RMG says in the interview, more often than not, they won. The Knights used to hang out at the Radio Club, a venue made famous as the location for the dance scenes in ‘Breakdance the Movie’ where Chris ‘The Glove’ Taylor scratches and Ice T raps as the rival dance crew’s battle it out. Apparently, this was a pretty authentic example of how things went down in L.A. clubs in 1984.

The Knights of the Turntables never really planned to make their own tracks, but C-Brez worked in the stockroom for JDC Records, a disco/funk label whose owner, Jim Callon, was interested in putting out some electro tracks. He asked C-Brez if he knew anyone who might be up for it, and C-Brez put himself and Lil Rockin’ G forward. Callon invited them down to the JDC warehouse, where he introduced them to his friend, Charles Lamont. Lamont had a Prophet 5, a pedal reverb unit and a drumulator. G and C-Brez had brought along an 808, their turntables and a mixer. They recorded the basic rhythm track for ‘Techno Scratch’ to a two-track reel-to-reel recorder in one continuous 15 minute take, right there in the middle of the warehouse! The original version was over 15 minutes long, but this got chopped down to 12 minutes and finally, Callon edited it down to the 3-minute version that became one of the most influential records in the history of electro music. I first came across it on the Streetsounds compilation, ‘Electro 5’ and it made an immediate impression. That was probably due to the novelty Woody Woodpecker cut-up (I was only 11 at the time!), but the combination of sparse drum programming, Lamont’s alien synths and G and C-Brez’s rhythmic scratching made it a killer track. They weren’t sure what to do with it, but decided to cut an acetate so they would have some beats to play at jams that other DJ’s didn’t have. Eventually, Callon made the edit and released the record on JDC.

They returned to the studio later on that year and recorded ‘Fresh Mess (Jam… Your Radio)’, which followed a similar blueprint to ‘Techno Scratch’. Its maybe not as immediate as its predecessor, lacking a real hook, but I actually prefer it. The scratching flows so intuitively with the beats, which makes you realise what incredible deck technicians the Knights were. Plus I love that bassline. It all sounds pretty basic, but the impact it had on me and many others far outweighs the rudimentary nature of the composition. ‘Fresh Mess’ featured on ‘Electro 7’ which was where I first heard it. To give you an example of what the Knights live sets may have sounded like, I have also posted the ‘Dub’ mix of ‘Fresh Mess’, entitled ‘The Knights Fly To Mars And Venus, With Their Dog, Woodpecker, And Cat’. The synths are a bit of tune in places, but this adds rather than detracts, making it sound authentic and live. The signature Woody Woodpecker scratch makes another appearance, along with cut-ups of dogs and cats, and plenty of cowbell. The ‘Fresh Mess’ sessions also yielded the one and only vocal track they recorded, ‘We Are The Knights’, which featured Chilly G on a vocodered rap. This also represented the last music the Knights committed on wax.

The interview from which I gathered most of this info comes courtesy of the Bayreuth Radio Crew – a trio of absolute obsessive electro heads from Bayreuth in Germany. Lil Rockin’ G and Mad Mixer RMG both seem touched that they are still held in such high esteem in Europe. They are very charming, humble, down-to-earth people and they have lots of interesting things to say. The interview was recorded in 2005, and G mentions that he is planning an album of new Knights of the Turntables material, along with unreleased tracks from the archive, plus that original 12 minute version of ‘Techno Scratch’. As far as I am aware, this hasn’t happened yet, but I really, really hope it does.

The Radio Crew website is a phenomenal archive of everything to do with old school electro. They know their shit inside out and have the most incredible record collections. I call myself a fan but I am only really playing at it compared to these guys. They take it to another dimension entirely and I found out so many things I had no idea about. If you are interested in electro music, you really should go and check it out.

Visit the Bayreuth Radio Crew website
The Knights of the Turntables page with the 50 minute phone interview, along with archive photos and flyers here
The Knights of the Turntables discography
Search eBay for The Knights of the Turntables - both 12"'s were repressed, so don't get fooled into paying loads of money, unless you are sure it is an original copy.